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March 28, 2013

My Life in a Cult

Author Lauren Drain speaks out about picketing U.S. solders' funerals and praising the terrorist attacks of September 11 as a teen member of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church — and about how her parents disowned her for questioning the group's shocking tactics.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Subject

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You've heard about the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC); its members wave outrageous signs — "God Hates Fags," "Thank God for 9/11" — at military funerals and tweet offensive messages like "#GodSentTheShooter" to Sandy Hook Elementary. Now, ex-member Lauren Drain, 27, author of Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church (Grand Central Publishing), reveals the details of her life in the secretive, cultlike group and what led to her being shunned by her own family.

You were 15 when your father moved your family from Bradenton, Florida, to Topeka, Kansas, to join the Westboro Baptist Church. How did he get involved?
He was making a documentary about the church and started adopting its fundamentalist views. Even before we moved, he cut me off from friends and called me his evil daughter because I liked boys [the WBC forbids dating].

What does the church believe?
That everyone on earth, except its members, is going to hell. They think society's acceptance of homosexuality dooms us in God's eyes. I was taught that the Holocaust was the Jews' punishment for killing Christ and that 9/11 was God's retribution for our sins. It was our responsibility to deliver that message by protesting at public events.

How often did you picket?
Over seven years I picketed every day, three times a day — funerals, concerts, gay pride events, any place that would get attention. [Founder] Fred Phelps watched Fox News and chose locations based on their stories. I missed class to picket, but I'd make it up later. I even picketed my own high school graduation in a cap and gown, holding a sign that said "Fag Chargers" — our mascot was a charging horse. People screamed and cursed at us, especially at our "Thank God for 9/11" signs. They'd throw trash, bottles, eggs. I was threatened with a knife and shot at with a BB gun. Marines chased me at military funerals. But I was never scared. If I got hurt, I thought that was God's will. The one time I felt ashamed was when I was picketing before the funeral of five murdered Amish schoolchildren [in West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, in 2006]. I prayed no one from the media would interview me, because I couldn't explain why I was there.


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